We Irish are very proud of our four Noble laureates in literature: William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. Irish Americans also have Eugene O'Neill, the only recipient of the prize born in New York City (and not far from Times Square where he was born, the Irish American Writers & Artists will present their lifetime achievement award named for him to the Irish Repertory Theatre on Oct. 17).
But only one of those five geniuses is still with us - and very much so. New Yorkers have a rare opportunity to see and hear Heaney in person on next Monday evening, Sept. 26, at the 92nd Street Y on Lexington Avenue.
The late Jack Holland, the best-selling author and Echo staffer, would have planned on being there for sure. Heaney taught him at school in Belfast in the early 1960s and has mentioned Jack a few times in interviews.
To buy tickets for the event, which is sponsored by Imagine Ireland, go to 92y.org.
Another Irish literary star, Anne Enright, whose "The Gathering" won the Man Booker Prize in 2007, will be the guest at the 92nd Y on the following Monday, Oct. 3, and tickets for that event can also be bought at 92y.org.
Sending a message
I was at home in my apartment in Woodside 10 years ago when the terrorists attacked New York (12 men didn't return to the neighborhood's two firehouses). It was soon clear that the voting in that day's primary would have to be abandoned. I had become a U.S. citizen in May and was looking forward to the whole process of going into a polling station and helping to choose who would square off against Mr. Bloomberg in November.
I began my voting career in the Republic of Ireland, which like most democracies has a prime minister who governs with a parliamentary majority. America, in contrast, has a separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. They are supposed to govern together, as I understand it, but since last year, the House of Representatives has had a GOP majority that is quite right-wing and has tried to make life as difficult as possible for the president.
In a recent article for the online magazine Slate, commentator Jacob Weisberg said that the Republicans in Congress could be divided into three types: fundamentalists, cynics and sheep. The true believers like Rep. Paul Ryan are against increases in government spending in principle. Then there are those who oppose the commander in chief for nakedly political reasons; exhibit A: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's infamous statement: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
Weisberg pointed out that McConnell and Rep. Eric Cantor, along with other leaders and sheep, voted for President Bush's $156 billion stimulus in 2008. "Back then, they felt some responsibility for the economy. Now it's Obama's problem," he wrote. That's the part I don't fully understand. Even though they are supposed to be governing together, and Congress's approval ratings are lower than his, the buck stops with the president, in Harry Truman's words.
Once Republicans are away from the hurly burly of politics, however, they tend to take a less cynical view. As Weisberg writes: "Mark Zandi, the Moody's chief economist who was John McCain's economic adviser, judged that the Obama stimulus passed in 2009 kept unemployment from rising two percentage points higher. He says that the president's new proposal would boost GDP by 2 percent and reduce unemployment by 1.9 million jobs."
Said the Slate writer: "There is no question that the current Republican position [in Congress] is eccentric as a matter of economics."
I have friends who are unemployed, so I made sure I voted early last Tuesday morning - in the 9th District, where I now live -- to send the GOP-controlled House of Representatives a message. Alas, Republican Bob Turner, who campaigned on sending Obama a message, got 54 percent of the votes.
Some didn't want it to be about the economy at all. Former Democratic Mayor Ed Koch campaigned for the Catholic Turner against the Orthodox Jewish Democrat David Weprin saying it was referendum on support for Israel. Turner himself, meanwhile, also tried to make it into a referendum on the "Ground Zero mosque," which he said Weprin and Obama support (as does Koch, but that was kept quiet).
By late Tuesday evening, my friends weren't any closer to getting a job.